Monthly Archives: November 2016

Mirror’s Edge

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Mirror’s Edge on Steam

MSRP: $19.99

Platforms: Windows, XBox 360, PS3

Release: 1/13/09


Somehow, Mirror’s Edge never got on my radar until people started talking about the sequel – Mirror’s Edge Catalyst – that came out this year.  Still I held off because I couldn’t justify paying $20 for a game that was 8 years old and is essentially a first person 3D platformer given my difficulties with platformers.  However, when I saw the price fall to only $5 during the recent Steam Autumn Sale, I knew the time had come for me to see what Mirror’s Edge was all about.

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So far, for me, it’s a combination of absolutely fascinating game play and frustrating repetitive failure.  I contemplated playing the game on easy, but was warned that the easier difficulty only really applied to the combat in the game, and went with normal. There is a hard difficulty that is unlocked by completing story mode, so to start out, easy and normal are the only options.

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I knew almost immediately that this was a game that would take a lot of willpower for me to finish; I was failing pretty miserably even in the tutorial level.  However, in the prologue, I started to feel like I was getting it – sure, I wasn’t moving as fast as the game seemed to want me to, but I wasn’t really struggling too much either.  Until the end of the level, that is.  It’s amazing how much more difficult it is to figure out the correct route and complete parkour challenges while there’s a whole bunch of people shooting at you.

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The cutscenes are fairly frequent, and are really the only way the game has to build up the story.  Thankfully for those of us who are likely to die – a lot – all the cutscenes can be skipped by pressing the space bar so you’re not stuck watching them over and over. The art of the cut scenes is fantastic, and I don’t really feel as if the age of the game is particularly evident due mostly to the decisions make in regards to artwork.

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Although most reviews will cite the story as the weakest part of the game, I still found it fairly captivating, and when combined with the satisfaction of getting through a level by doing everything just right, is certainly going to be motivation enough for me to keep pressing through the frustrating bits.  In fact, I would argue that the combat is the least impressive part of Mirror’s Edge, but at least so far, is infrequent enough for me not to care that it’s not all that interesting.

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Overall, I think Mirror’s Edge is definitely a game that has weathered the years pretty well, and is unique enough that it still merits playing without any nostalgia attached. It is fairly short, however, and I’m not sure that the $20 price point has weathered the years nearly as well.  For $10 or less, it’s worth picking up if you enjoy platforming mechanics.  For $5 or less, I’d recommend it for anyone.


Starting tomorrow (December 1st), and through the remainder of 2016, I will only be playing games that have a 90% or higher positive rating on Steam.  I currently have a list of almost 70 games that fit that criteria that I haven’t talked about yet, so it looks like the biggest challenge will be choosing which of these classics (and modern classics) to play first.

On January 1, 2017, I will be retiring this blog, and moving to a new domain – Completion Chronicles, in which I’ll revisit some of my favorite titles from this year.  I hope you’ll find that as just as interesting.

Green Moon

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Green Moon on Steam

MSRP: $6.99

Platforms: Win, Mac*

Release: 5/15/15

Mac version available here – the Steam version does not indicate Mac compatibility.


There are, quite literally, hundreds of hidden object games out there.  Some are pretty excellent, some are downright awful, and some are mediocre.  But I don’t know that I’ve ever run into one that was quite so disappointing as Green Moon. Since I spent less than a dollar on it, it’s not worth the effort of refunding, but I wish that the developers had put half as much effort into the game as they did into their description of it.

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Let’s start with the basics – Green Moon is not a hidden object game – it’s a point-n-click adventure game with a heavy emphasis on inventory. There’s plenty of items to look at and pick up. Some of it, like keys, will have a fairly obvious use, but much of it may or may not have some use later on.  Which would be mildly annoying, but there appears to be an inventory cap, and since the game generously allows you to drop things anywhere, well, you might not be able to find something again once you figure out what it’s for.

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The visuals aren’t terribly impressive, and you’re locked at a fairly low default resolution, and in fact, it looked downright awful until I turned off full screen mode. However, the trade off is that, since there’s a lot of pixel hunting going on, a small window isn’t really an ideal way to play this sort of game.  If there’s an introductory story, I must have inadvertently skipped it – twice – and couldn’t find a whole lot of enthusiasm to explore a decrepit house with no idea where I was or what I was doing there.

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As for the claim of 50 hours of gameplay, well, I certainly can’t imagine slogging through 50 hours of this.  However, at least one Steam reviewer shows a play time less than 9 hours, and states that he has beaten the game (as well as having to do a fresh install for a game-breaking bug, and also idled the game for a couple of hours for the trading cards), which leads me to believe that this claim is also, quite frankly, crap.

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In my mind, Green Moon is so much worse than just unimpressive.  It’s the product of developers who, for whatever reason, felt the need to outright lie about their game, and I don’t know how a game designer expects to have any business at all if consumers can’t trust them. There are absolutely no redeeming qualities here.

Runespell: Overture

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Runespell: Overture on Steam (demo available)

MSRP: $9.99

Platforms: Windows, iOS

Release: 7/20/11


Lately, I’ve been drawn to games that mix genres in new and interesting ways. I’m still dabbling in Rollers of the Realm, and today I started playing around with Runespell: Overture.  Which is what you get when you combine poker, Yahtzee, and spice it up with a RPG-style storyline and just a whisper of a collectible card game.  It’s an odd combination, and it works well enough, although I’d be hard pressed to point to a single thing it actually excels at.

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You, the amnesiac main character, for all intents and purposes, comes into being in the middle of nowhere.  Before you know it – you’re running into creatures that want to kill you for no real reason, and you’re given several levels of tutorial, where you’re taught how combat works, and to be clear, combat is the meat of this game.

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The goal is to create groupings of five cards which make the best poker hands for maximum damage.  You get three moves per turn, and you can use those to move one of your cards or stacks of cards, steal a face up un-grouped card from your opponent’s board, use a completed five card hand to attack, or – as the game progresses – use one of your active abilities.  It might sound overwhelming, but if you’re at all familiar with poker, you’ll be able to pick it up fairly quickly.

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There is an included “Poker Help” menu which will show you types of hands and how much damage each will do if you’re a little rusty. The tutorial does a fairly decent, if slightly tedious, job of introducing you to all the main concepts in the game before starting to send you out on quests, which mostly involve going places and battling.  Sure, there’s a story trying to hold it all together, but this isn’t a game you’re playing for the story – you’re here for the unique mechanics.

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Although it’ll take about 10 hours to get through the story, I don’t really feel like this is a $10 title.  Luckily, it’s available with 7 other games for only $2.99 on Bundle Stars, and for that price, it’s absolutely worth checking out.

Runers

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Runers on Steam (demo available)

MSRP: $9.99

Platform: Windows

Release: 9/2/14


Runers is another game that’s been sitting on my wishlist for quite awhile that has a pretty deep discount as part of the Steam Autumn Sale.  It’ll be an incredibly long haul for me to get good enough at it to progress far enough to start getting to play with all the really neat things the developers put into the game, but even being terrible is kind of frantically fun, which is more than I can say about a lot of games I’m bad at.

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Runers is a top-down, dungeon-crawling shooter.  Movement is done with WASD, you use your mouse to target and shoot, and each class gets a unique special ability that can be activated by pressing Q.  The tutorials aren’t forced upon you, but are worth playing through to get a handle on how it all works.  The levels are all procedurally generated, which can be a double edged sword.  Sure, no two playthroughs will be the same, but you also may hit encounters that your character is just not prepared for, and permadeath means that can be extremely punishing.

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Enemies and destructibles all have a chance to drop runes, which you can combine in your inventory to create new spells.  Some spells also require a component called a combiner, which is somewhat of a rare drop.  Add in health packs, and that’s the extent of the loot in Runers – all your character improvement is done through spellcrafting and upgrade choices as you level up.

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Although unlocks are pretty much the meta game here, you’re given a lot of starting options – most of the passives and classes are available right from your first playthrough, and that results in a ridiculous number of combinations to try out.  You also have two difficult options (with three more unlockable), and when combined with almost three hundred discoverable spells, Runers is pretty much a game without end, provided you enjoy the grind.

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There’s a lot of game here for $10, and an astronomical amount for the current $2 discounted price. Sure, it’s a niche game without flashy graphics, but it’s also very well-constructed and fun to play.  If you enjoy rogue-lite shooters, this should be an instant buy.

Rollers of the Realm

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Rollers of the Realm on Steam

MSRP: $9.99

Platforms: Windows, PS4, PSVita

Release: 11/18/14


Rollers of the Realm is exactly the kind of game that still leaves me feeling giddy during major Steam sales.  Since Steam implemented a refund system, many people have complained that the sales are now lackluster because we’re not seeing such deep discounts on the more popular titles.  However, with a little bit of research, you sometimes still can find great games you’ve never heard of for almost nothing.

So, before we go any further, hats off to Dragnix, without whose video I might never have discovered Rollers of the Realm.

Rollers of the Realm is another indie mashup, but one I’ve never seen before – it’s a pinball puzzler RPG. True confession: until today, I had never had any real interest in playing pinball using a keyboard.  But the whole idea of a pinball RPG, and a $2 sale price, was too much to resist.

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Each of your party members is a ball, and you can switch between party members by using one of the main flippers (those are the ones at the bottom with the green highlight) to hold the ball, and then scrolling through your party using the W and I keys.  Each different character has a unique magical spell, but they share a mana bar. You collect gold during each board, and between them, you have the option to purchase additional equipment to increase the power of your party.

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In some places, you’re going to need to manipulate the flippers (and nudge the ball from time to time) to get your ball to where it needs to be to move onto the next level.  Sometimes, it’s just a frantic bit of combat, where you want to smash your ball into enemies over and over.  There are collectibles on most levels as well, and they’re not always so easy to get to.  If you see a chest, there’s a key hidden somewhere.

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If you’re not excited about those mechanics, though, the story doesn’t feel like it’s going to be enough to drive you through.  Especially if you’re inexperienced with PC pinball, some of the earliest levels might take multiple attempts before you can make it all work. Someone with more experience might find it dull, but there are two difficulty options, and upping it from casual to challenging might make it more fun.

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Overall, I think Rollers of the Realm is really well put together and I’m excited to play more.  Just playing through the storyline will easily net you 5 – 6 hours of gameplay, and the mechanics are fun enough I think there could be some replay value here.  There is also an arena mode with extra challenges separate from the story.  Not an awful value at full price, but an absolute steal at only $1.99.

Into the Stars

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Into the Stars on Steam

MSRP: $19.99

Platform: Windows

Release: 3/4/16


Usually, when a game does almost everything right, it’ll still be an enjoyable experience even if that one glaring mistake nags at you from time to time.  Into the Stars does almost everything right – it’s a fantastic concept, it looks great, it sounds great.  However, the area where it does not excel is perhaps the most important – gameplay.

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Before the game even loaded, it had a strike against it – Into the Stars triggered both my antivirus software and Windows Defender, and although false positives happen, this was a sign of more rough edges to come.   My system wasn’t even top of the line when I bought it, but it more than meets the recommended system requirements, and it still took several minutes to get the point where I could start the game. Once inside, I attempted to access the options menu to review the controls scheme, and the game just hung there – after several minutes of trying and failing to view the controls, I finally tabbed out and opened a screen shot I took of the control scheme. Lastly, once I decided I’d played enough and attempted to save and close the game, it locked my entire computer, forcing me to hard reboot – I wasn’t even able to close it using the control panel.

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I still might have been able to forgive all of that if the game was extraordinary, but it’s not. Although I love the idea of being the last bastion of the human race, and exploring planets for resources while trying to survive against hostile alien races, actually playing Into the Stars wasn’t fun. Nothing was well explained, and I probably wasted two weeks of in game time (and the associated necessary resources) trying to make my spaceship move. Even when I managed to figure out the proper keybind (it’s SHIFT, but even after playing for an hour, I’m not sure if you have to press it multiple times or just press and hold to get to max speed), the movement was initially so slow that I wasn’t 100% sure that I was moving at all.

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You’re going to have to go back and forth from the gorgeous outside view to the captain’s chair pretty frequently, because it seems like there is forever some small problem you need to personally assign one of your bridge crew to deal with. I just wanted to gawk at the star system, but the game demanded I send someone to deal with people relieving themselves in the streets instead of in the designated facilities. Call me crazy, but I feel like on a ship this size with so much to worry about, there should be an infrastructure in place to deal with things like public defecation.

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Sending out mining probes to gather critical resources requires playing a minigame that looks so completely out of place, it might have been an afterthought. You use the arrow keys to guide the probe to hit the resources you’re hoping to obtain while avoiding the blocks that will damage your probe. It’s probably the only fast paced thing in the game, and it looks and feels so bad, you’ll find yourself wondering if it’s worth playing to get the life support systems back online.

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All in all, Into the Stars was a giant disappointment. I feel like the developers were so caught up in making it look and sound fantastic that they forgot that the most important part is to make the game actually fun to play. Resource harvesting isn’t fun, managing your crew and onboard colony isn’t fun, and combat? Also not fun. I finished my play session very frustrated, and feeling bad about every time I grumbled about terrible graphics in an otherwise impressive game. I can’t recommend this at any price, and certainly not for $20.

Teslagrad

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Teslagrad on Steam (demo available)

MSRP: $9.99

Platforms: Win, Mac, Linux, PS3, PS4, Wii U, XBox One

Release: 12/13/13


In case you didn’t know, Steam is currently having it’s Autumn Sale through November 29th.  During pretty much every major Steam sale, I spend a lot of time looking at titles I have passed over a million times at full price for one reason or another.  Teslagrad is a puzzle-platformer, which pretty much is the entirety of why I hadn’t played it until now.  For the sale price of $1.99, it would have been a justifiable splurge, even knowing the chances of me playing it for very long are abysmal.  However, Teslagrad actually has a playable demo, so I decided to try before buying since, after all, that’s what demos are for.

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There is no text. None. Even the tutorials are pictograms. You can, however, check the control scheme in the options menu, but unsurprisingly, Teslagrad uses WASD for movement and space for jumping, so pretty standard right off the bat. The actual platforming is not where the challenge comes in – it’s not about split second twitch precision, but rather about puzzling out how to manipulate the environment.

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True confession time – I didn’t play long enough to have to deal with many enemies, but you should be aware that the boss fights are hard, and must be completed without taking any damage. I was doing enough blundering around just trying to adjust to the idea of the arrow keys being my action buttons, and I knew the chances of me surviving pretty much any encounter were really slim, so I decided not to pick up Teslagrad, although I do think it would feel more natural with a controller than it does with the keyboard.

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Unsurprisingly, I am not the target audience for this game, but I can objectively appreciate the things that Teslagrad is doing, and doing well. If puzzle platformers with challenging boss fights are your preferred way to spend an evening or two, and you haven’t already played Teslagrad, you should absolutely pick it up while it’s on sale.

 

Beholder

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Beholder on Steam (demo available)

MSRP: $9.99

Platforms: Win, Mac, Linux

Release: 11/9/16


If you’re looking for a game to play in which you’re the hero, this is not the game.  If you just want to feel good about yourself at the end of the day, well, this is not the game for that either.  If you want to try to do the right thing at the risk of a really awful ending, or just to make gut-wrenching decisions that make you feel like you need to wash your hands a couple of hundred times, well, now you’re wandering into the territory of Beholder.

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You play as Carl Stein, a married man with two children, who has just been given the job of caretaker in an apartment building.  Except that’s not really your job.  Your job is to spy on your tenants and report on them for every possible infraction.  I told you, this is not a happy game.  You are a cog in the machine of a dystopian dictatorship, and either you’re working for the bad guys, or they’re probably coming for you next.

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Even playing on the recently added Trainee difficulty, and going through the tutorial, I managed to fail my first mission.  Not because I was trying to be a good guy – no, I just couldn’t figure out how to make the game work.  If you find yourself stumbling up against a similar wall, use the phone in your office and choose the “reference” option – that will give you a few things you can ask about, and doing so cleared up the issue I was having.

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There is one overarching story in Beholder, but making different choices will change how the game plays out.  Unless you’re looking for a serious challenge, I recommend using the lower difficulty at the start – while it does make the game easier, in a lot of ways, it also gives you the leeway to make some interesting choices without immediate and serious consequences.

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Playing Beholder made me think of Papers, Please in atmosphere, but thus far seems to avoid the high pressure gameplay with an emphasis on attention to detail.  I never got too far in Papers, Please because I was always screwing things up, but I can see myself playing through Beholder in its entirety.  But not all at once. I think I need to go wash up again.

Space Pirates and Zombies

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Space Pirates and Zombies on Steam

MSRP: $9.99

Platforms: Win, Mac, Linux

Release: 8/5/11


I really think I could get into Space Pirates and Zombies if only I weren’t so awful at it.  I love the idea of an RPG in hostile space, with research trees and building elements and some nifty tactical decision making thrown in.  But the combat sequences kind of feel like playing Asteroids on an Atari 2600, except instead of a joystick, I have to use a keyboard and mouse, and my ship is flying everywhere but where it needs to be, and I fire lazers in the general direction of where I think the enemy ship is, and couldn’t I just automate the combat and play the rest of the game maybe?

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For someone who isn’t such an unmitigated disaster at the action combat portion, I feel like this has all the makings of a really great strategic RPG, and I’m pretty sure if I can bumble through long enough, I can build a big enough fleet that I can just run around after the majority of my ships picking up debris. The initial world setup screen made me wonder if I was in for a more rogue-like experience than a story-driven one, but you’ll want to make your starting choices wisely, because you’re in for about 30 hours of questing in the world you create.

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Half an hour or so in, I’m pretty intrigued.  There aren’t too many games that make me want to push through the parts I’m not good at, but Space Pirates and Zombies in – at least for now – secure on that list.  It’s a nice mashup of a lot of game elements I really enjoy, and although it doesn’t feel completely seamless, it’s probably the next best thing.

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For the recently reduced regular price of only $10, this game is absolutely worth picking up at full price, even without consideration toward replayability.

Evo Explores

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Evo Explores on Steam

MSRP: $1.99

Platforms: Win, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, Blackberry

Release: 5/16/16


The version of Evo Explores available on Steam seems like it’s a straight up port of the mobile version – everything is done with the mouse, and there’s even a “Battery Saver” setting in the options menu.  This doesn’t really bother me, since the price is so low, and consistent across all platforms, but there is really no compelling reason to get it on the computer instead of for your mobile device.  Levels are very short, and at least near the beginning of the game, not all that challenging, but I don’t think Evo Explores is meant to be a puzzle game for the brain as much as it’s meant to be a game for the eyes.

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You’re presented with a tiny robot avatar who needs to transverse a bunch of Escher-esque landscapes, usually with one or more manipulatable components.  And that’s really all there is to it, level after level – you need to get your tiny robot from point A to point B, sometimes having to step on a certain spot to open a door. It’s not complex.  It is, however, really freaking cool to look at.

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The gimmick of course is that if you manage to hide a gap behind a wall, it no longer exists.  In the screenshot above, moving the green column shouldn’t have any effect at all on the break in the path, but since you will no longer be able to see the hole, it won’t exist. It’s a neat gimmick, but I’m not sure that it’s enough to carry a game on.

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Evo Explores may be compact, but it’s also very well put together. It’s nothing I’d want to play for hours on end (which is good, since the entire game will only take an hour or so to finish), but it’s enjoyable to poke at now and then.  Which is exactly what you want in a mobile game, so if you have the option to purchase it for a phone or tablet, that’s probably the better choice.  There’s no real reason to want a bigger screen, or mouse controls over touchscreen.